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Industry giants focus on ground safety

11 January 2019
In 2018, Boeing trialled its SOCAS solution to help pilots detect surface obstacles in taxiways and ramp areas. Source: Boeing

Improving pilot situational awareness is a long-held priority to reduce the number of surface accidents

Honeywell Aerospace, Boeing, and Airbus are conducting research and development to improve surface safety at airports, and they may soon bring new products to market.

Runway safety has improved over the years amid technology advances, such as runway status lights and virtual stopbars, but incursions and excursions remain one of the biggest challenges for aviation safety as air traffic grows.

Early days for SOCAS

In 2018, the Boeing ecoDemonstrator (ecoD) flight test research programme included evaluation of the Surface Operations Collision Avoidance System (SOCAS). This combines radar and optical sensors to help pilots detect aircraft, vehicles, buildings, and other ground obstacles in taxiways and ramp areas that may be out of their sight, particularly at night or in severe weather conditions.

In the ecoD evaluation, a radar was mounted on the tip of the left wing of the test aircraft to see if it could detect a sheet of aluminum attached to a large, inflatable pylon mounted on a vehicle. SOCAS reportedly tracks obstacles and uses machine vision to determine distance and time to collision. An audible alert is issued to the crew if a potential collision is detected.

Boeing cannot divulge further details on the scope and future of SOCAS. “While we did test SOCAS on a [B-]777 freighter owned by FedEx last year as part of the ecoD programme, we’re not ready to share results at this time,” company officials informed Jane’s . However, they did say “the SOCAS system is not intended for detecting runway incursions, but obstacles on gates/taxiways”, and Boeing would provide more details “when the system and the programme are more developed and we have more solid results to share”.

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